A HISTORIAN has marked the 80th D-Day by celebrating five locals who worked in the top-secret Admiralty Chart Establishment at Taunton during the war.

Dr Adrian Webb, who recently published his book Churchill’s Secret Chart Makers, was able to present his book to five of the men and women who worked at the top-secret Taunton establishment on June 6. 

With a combined age of almost 500, Kath Holman, Nancy Berry, Doris Cox, Cyril Morse, and Audrey Butler, all took part in the tremendous effort to provide charts for civilian and military purposes during World War II.

Kath Holman undertook fire-watching duties on the roof of Creechbarrow House, the Admiralty Chart Establishment at Taunton, amongst other things.

Somerset County Gazette: Adrian Webb and David Bromwich from the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History SocietyAdrian Webb and David Bromwich from the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society (Image: Adrian Webb)

Nancy Berry worked in the Photographic Department, including the top-secret job of photographically producing images of the coast of Northern France and sticking them together with sellotape – which were used a few months later to help guide over 6,000 ships to Normandy on D-Day.

Doris Cox joined the Department during the war as a young office Clark supporting the work of supplying charts to the Navy. Cyril Morse joined the Department as an apprentice in 1945 and worked alongside men in the Engraving Department who had worked around the clock and slept on their copper plates because demands were so great for the work they were producing.

Dr Webb said: “It was an absolute honour to be able to present them with a signed copy of my book on the 6th. Accompanied by Rear Admiral Tim Lowe CBE, a retired Chief Executive of the department’s successor organisation, the UK Hydrographic Office, we visited these lovely veterans with books and many words of appreciation.”

Somerset County Gazette: Churchill's Secret Chart Makers, by Adrian Webb.Churchill's Secret Chart Makers, by Adrian Webb. (Image: Adrian Webb)

The historian’s book shares the story of the “unsung heroes”, buildings, events, and much more. It is dedicated to all of those wartime staff who provided charts for civilian and military purposes during the war.

Dr Adrian Webb wrote: “The local aspects were wartime activities mainly in Bath and Taunton, Somerset in the Admiralty’s Hydrographic Department. These places had connections with Nottingham, Exeter, Liverpool, Armadale (West Lothian), Bradford, Cricklewood and numerous ports where Admiralty chart depots were located. It was Bath and Taunton that bore the lion’s share of the work of providing Allied forces with an unprecedented number of charts and publications for navigation purposes.

“In order to produce anywhere from five to seven million charts per year, instead of the normal figure of one million, the Department needed to expand. Thus premises in Exeter were requisitioned, whilst a new purpose-built chart-making factory was built at a top secret location in the country, that is Taunton.

Somerset County Gazette: Sam Astill, Dr Adrian Webb and Esther Hoyle, from the South west Heritage Trust.Sam Astill, Dr Adrian Webb and Esther Hoyle, from the South west Heritage Trust. (Image: Adrian Webb)

"This unique factory designed in the Art Deco style down to the very last detail by Cyril Jowsey was fully operational by June 1941. It needed to be staffed and hundreds of local people, printers from London and Scotland, ladies from the Ealing School of Art, were recruited to work in this brand new top secret facility.

“The department's finest hour was undoubtedly the design, manufacturer and dispatch of over 450,000 charts for the D-Day Landings. Sadly only 12 out of the 1100 civilians in the department who undertook war work received any formal award for their outstanding efforts. This was not unusual, although, in my opinion, regrettable.

"When the war was over many of the staff were no longer required and had to find new jobs. Many had been pushed to breaking point through the requirements for D-Day.

"I was blissfully unaware of this and hundreds of other facts and stories when I started researching the history behind ‘Churchill’s Secret Chart makers’ over 20 years ago.”

Dr Adrian Webb’s book can be purchased from Brendon Books in Taunton or at www.somersethistory.com. He asks anyone with stories or photos of family members who worked for the Department to please get in touch at somersethistorian@gmail.com.